Delray Beach and Boca Raton Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Watch as Jeff and Dave, the founders of YourDelrayBoca.com, give you their take on the local real estate market:

There is no more dynamic real estate market in the U.S. than Boca-Delray.

From oceanfront mansions and historic homes to picturesque country clubs and subdivisions the market is vibrant, the choices are endless and the neighborhoods varied depending on age range, price and taste. The area features everything from old Florida to the most modern downtown condo’s and townhomes.

You are sure to find exactly what you want in these two world-class cities.

Buying or selling in the Delray-Boca area and need a recommendation? We can help. Learn more here.

In Praise of Volunteers

Have you driven by Delray’s municipal beach lately?
It’s going to be a bit of a mess for awhile but when the dust clears the A1A “promenade” should look great.
Which is a good excuse to say thanks to the Beach Property Owners Association better known as the BPOA.
If my recollection is correct, the BPOA worked on the Beach Master Plan for the better part of 8 years. That’s a long time. Lots and lots of volunteer hours.
Architect Bob Currie donated his time and talents to the effort and so did the board led by President Bob Victorin–one of the truly great people who live in Delray.
It’s the volunteers who make our city so immensely special.
Their love of Delray is palpable and can be seen in every corner of our community.
Dedicated citizens bring energy and resources that can’t  be measured to the effort of building a great community.
It really does take a village.
Recently, I had the occasion to have dinner with three all time Delray greats at 50 Ocean.
While two of the three–former Police Chief Rick Overman and retired Officer Skip Brown–were city employees, their success was driven in part by their ability to attract and effectively deploy a slew of volunteers. The third gentleman was the one and only Perry Don Francisco, former owner of Bostons on the Beach, who became legendary for his community service over the years. In fact, Perry is still working for the community through Delray Citizens for Delray Police. In addition to a sensational banquet honoring longtime police employees (held last weekend) he’s still deeply involved in the holiday toy drive and when the chips are down –as they have been recently –you can always count on Perry to be there.
It’s here that I will note that while his wife grew up in Delray, Perry has always lived just down the street in another city. So for those city commissioners who cavalierly suggest that only residents should be able to serve/volunteer on city boards I respectfully disagree. Take a measure of where someone’s heart resides. If it lives here, it doesn’t matter where the head hits the pillow.
But I digress.

Let’s just say that Perry’s been invaluable to countless lives in our community. Mine included.
Chief Overman and Skip have also been invaluable.
Rick was a force of nature who came to Delray and created a department that became a farm system for future chiefs and legendary officers who made it possible for Delray to succeed.
Without a great PD there would be no Delray as we know it. It’s just that simple.
To quote someone in this story who shall remain nameless: Delray was circling the bowl before it made the turn.
My contention is it doesn’t make that turn without a great Police Department and some terrific city staff and yes volunteers and business leadership.
So as we enjoyed the ocean view from a restaurant once owned by Perry and swapped old stories I sat there in awe of three local legends.
And realized that all three employed volunteers to help them succeed. Rick and Skip and a few others launched and managed a remarkable volunteer effort at the department. An effort that earned national and international accolades.
But it wasn’t just PR. No, the accomplishments were real and lasting.
MAD DADS led by Chuck Ridley and Ben Bryant helped a great set of cops decimate the drug trade in Delray.
Skip’s volunteers–1,300 at its height–were something to behold. They still are.
And Perry set a standard for involvement for all other business leaders that may never be matched. Right up there with him are people like Frank Wheat, Bill Branning and Cathy Balestriere—contributors who give and give. P.S. those three don’t live here either. But we don’t have the Delray we know without them.
What a legacy.
Which brings me to The BPOA.
The association has a long history of engagement and advocacy.
While they are chartered to look after the barrier island, in my experience they have always pushed for the the betterment of the entirety of Delray Beach.
I’m glad to see dirt finally being moved on the Beach Master Plan. It’s been a long slog. It didn’t have to be, but that’s the subject of another column or my next book. Maybe both. Let’s just say the improvements don’t happen without them.
The volunteers work hard. They care.
And that makes all the difference.

Replace the Hamster Wheel; Get Things Done

“Coffee is for closers” – Glengarry Glen Ross

I’m about to write an amazing sentence.

Ready?

Here it is….

At 35—a Methuselah like age for tennis– Roger Federer may be better than ever.

He won the prestigious Miami Open April 2 easily swatting away Rafael Nadal, whose game once bedeviled Fed and has notched a 19-1 record for the year including a perfect 7-0 against top ten opponents.

In February, 39-year-old Patriots QB Tom Brady led his team to another Super Bowl win which also happened to be the greatest comeback many fans had ever seen.

He has told teammates that he can see playing for another 5-7 years.

Charo is killing it on Dancing With the Stars at an advanced age—ok that’s stretching it— but you get the point.

Age is not a barrier to achieving great things. In fact, it may be an advantage. Maturity certainly is a huge edge.

Federer has talked about playing with a joy and a looseness that has enabled him to get great results.

Samantha Bee, a late night TV comedian, says the key to her success is that she and her team have entered the “I don’t care what you think about me” years. As a result, they are just going to hang it out there.

I find it all inspiring.

Especially as my friend and I  approach my so-called dotage (hmmm…perhaps we can change that word from dotage to do-age, i.e. the age in which we apply our hard earned experience and get things done).

Yes the millennials are here and they are awesome–I’ve raised a few–and they are changing the world but don’t write off the boomers just yet.

Delray just elected two energetic boomers and one could argue that they–not the young (er) ones on the dais–are the ones brimming with ideas and ambition; the ones willing to try new things and new approaches to government and leadership.

Bravo!

An open mind is the key to progress in just about any endeavor including building great places to live and work. When leaders are willing to make some strategic bets and create a culture of learning good things happen. You kick off a virtuous cycle and attract talent.

Consequently, when you don’t make decisions and you slam experiments, you inhibit risk and you snuff out innovation. In a world that’s increasingly driven by speed and has become hypercompetitive you simply can’t afford complacency and rust.

In Delray Beach, the recent election turned on openness to new ideas and the need to change what more and more people are recognizing as a negative culture that has bred indecision, instability and frustration. The symptoms are unmistakable: lawsuits, staff turnover and issues that go on and on and on and on draining the community of investment and enthusiasm.

The ‘let’s get things done’ message resonated with voters who want to go move forward not back. Those candidates won by margins of two to one. That’s a mandate: a mandate to move forward, stop kvetching, seize opportunities and fix problems. It is not a mandate to throw out the rules and overdevelop. But it is a strong directive to fill the done box and stop the nonsense.

As a result, there’s an interesting relationship that can potentially take shape between elected officials like Shirley Johnson and Jim Chard and open minded creatives of all ages who seek to do radical things like create jobs, grow the tax base, bring new industries to Delray and create vibrancy and a sense of place and community.

There are a slew of entrepreneurs and a lot of energy in Delray these days and it’s very exciting. They have been attracted as a result of the work done over decades by scores of civic entrepreneurs. We should have a lot of civic pride in what’s been achieved and more importantly what’s in front of us if we loosen up and go for it—like Roger Federer crushing a backhand down the line. He doesn’t always make the shot, but he always takes it. As Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

I’m fortunate that my life’s work has enabled me to get to know some of these emerging leaders who are finding inspiration in Delray Beach. They are excited by the new leadership and hopeful for the future.

They see Vice Mayor Chard and Deputy Vice Mayor Johnson as open-minded change agents, willing to listen and learn.

The best elected officials are community builders who see possibilities. The worst are hand wringers who manufacture controversy, douse ambition and see a bogeyman behind every idea.

If you take offense at that statement; I’m sorry I don’t mean to offend you but perhaps you ought to look in the mirror and do some self-examination. Do it quick though, because time waits for no one—(sang Mick Jagger still rocking and having babies in his 70s) and the one thing you can count on in life –other than death and taxes– is change.

Delray was built on risk taking.

Flexible codes that allowed a downtown with a human scale to take root

Conditional use that enabled infill development and adaptive reuse

And;

Public private partnerships that have given us projects like Old School Square, the Arts Garage, the Community Land Trust and yes even iPic.

Yep, we’re still talking about iPic a third of the way through 2017. The topic has been kicking around since the  original Hunger Games opened and was screened at the Boca iPic (there have been two sequels since)– but still no theater in Delray. Sigh..

Is iPic “corporate welfare”?

In a word, no.

Corporate welfare is when a company rings you up and says give me money or we will take our company to another state, county or city.

But when you ask a corporation to go above and beyond your code or the scope of an RFP and they ask for assistance it’s not called welfare (defined as “government-provided support for those unable to support themselves”) it’s called a partnership. And if you think the RFP was “flawed” so be it, time didn’t begin on your watch and it’s easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback. The facts are the RFP attracted four good bids coming off a crushing recession–and now as a result of a terrific CRA we have a chance to land jobs, downtown entertainment and put a derelict property back on the tax rolls. If you want the deal, you make it happen. You iron out the problems and you drive it. Period. That’s leadership.

Are the terms good? Is the deal fair? Is it a win-win scenario?

All fair questions to ask and answer.

But when “requests” or “demands” are made as a condition of approval, it’s OK for those on the receiving end to counter with an offer. It’s called negotiations.

And folks, if applicants are unable to negotiate then we don’t have a system that enables compromise, progress or finality-we have something else entirely; a place where nobody will want to do business or make investments.

Think that’s an unfair assessment? A stretch?

Guess again.

Because as we have seen on other projects—even when you follow the rules and agree to dozens and dozens of conditions— you can still find yourself delayed, denied and despised.

That’s no way to run a railroad.

So how do we get from Federer and Brady to Delray politics?

Easy.

Maturity.

The veterans who succeed do so because they are seasoned leaders. They don’t panic when they are getting pounded in the first half or when they face Match Points (Match Point, that’s the subject of a future column) they adjust.

And they figure out a way to win not whine.

 

 

 

Lynn’s MBA in Delray: Only The Beginning

A most welcome addition

Last night was an important one for Delray Beach.

Quietly, before a few guests, the trajectory of our downtown might have changed forever.

That’s a big statement. I may be wrong, but let me try and back it up.

After months of negotiations, Lynn University will launch an MBA in Delray program focusing on entrepreneurship and marketing at the Delray Chamber. The one-year program will be offered at night and tailored to working professionals and entrepreneurs.

The move was announced a few weeks ago, but it felt real last night when a contingent of Lynn staff led by President Kevin Ross and Business School Dean Dr. RT Good told a small gathering of local leaders and entrepreneurs why they chose Delray and what the program will entail.

Folks, we have to make this work. Why?  Because if it does it changes the game and enhances the brand that has been fostered by a slew of Delray Beach visionaries and stakeholders since the mid-80s.

Dr. Ross and Chamber President Karen Granger see the MBA in Delray as an innovative model that chambers and universities can replicate across the country. It enables chambers to get needed revenue, enhance value for their members and grow local economies, while enabling universities to reach into communities and tailor programs to meet local needs and trends.

Dr. Good and the Lynn team have been hard at work designing a “different” kind of curriculum that promises deeper relationships with faculty, classmates and local businesses while focusing on leadership, hands-on projects and case studies.

For the chamber it enables a deeper dive into the world of entrepreneurship, a focus and passion for President Granger who has quietly but persistently nurtured relationships with a growing number of promising local entrepreneurs. Many were there for the Lynn celebration including Brian Niles of Rooster, Eric Bucher of Call Sprout and Project Runway’s Amanda Perna, who runs “House of Perna,” an emerging fashion design brand.

Delray and Boca’s emerging foodie economy was represented as well with catering by fabulous Farmer’s Table restaurant, which I think has enormous potential. (Here’s where I should plug my two food/beverage related brands Tabanero and Celsius, but that would be indulgent no? Wink)

All of this is to say, that this partnership may signal that Delray’s downtown and indeed its economy is expanding beyond food and beverage—and that’s a good thing. A diversified economy is a more resilient and sustainable model.

Many years ago, Delray made a conscious choice to lead with food, beverage, culture and festivals to jumpstart its moribund, dull and dangerous downtown corridor.

It was a smart move, brilliantly executed by many, many important contributors and risk taking entrepreneurs.

And it worked, remarkably well.

We have a vibrant, valuable, cool, and attractive and revenue generating downtown that looks and feels good.

Our restaurant “row” generates crowds, creates jobs and helped to change how people see Delray Beach.

Our cultural and intellectual amenities: Old School Square, the Delray Beach Library, Spady Museum, Sandoway House, Delray Historical Society, Arts Garage and historic districts make us a distinct destination which drives property values, tax base, quality of life and tourism which is another critically important industry.

Festivals have also played and continue to play a major role. Which is why it was incredibly disappointing to see the debate about their value so mishandled. It’s an opportunity missed because so many cities are building their economies and brands around festivals. It’s something that should be revisited and expanded beyond the myopic debate around cost and inconvenience. I’m not saying that cost and resident convenience isn’t critically important because it is, but most of those issues can be solved with creative planning and by examining the revenue side of the equation and the intrinsic value created by events.

The Delray Marriott, Residence Inn, Seagate Hotel, Hyatt, Fairfield, Crane’s Beach House, Wright by the Sea, Parliament Inn, the historic Colony Hotel, Sundy House and other properties are extremely valuable assets that drive our economy and brand. They don’t stay viable and valuable—if we don’t have a vibrant local economy with many parts working.

The Delray ATP and the many junior events as well as our golf courses and sports facilities are also important assets that can be grown, nurtured, promoted and leveraged to keep our economy sustainable and the Delray value proposition higher than most other cities—especially small cities. We compete for investment and jobs. And we’ve built a powerhouse of a charming little city.

Cities that work have many moving parts that have to work together in concert to create lasting value.

Delray—imperfect as it is, challenged as it is—has done that. Value has been created. Quality of life and place has been created. It is our job and our responsibility to keep it going and to create a city of opportunity for all.

Through my 30 years here, my community involvement and my professional life—I get to meet and work with many talented people who aspire.

Kids from Atlantic High School and Village Academy who want to come back to Delray and make a life here, City staff who went into public service to make a difference, startup founders whom I encourage, informally advise and ask for help myself on my business challenges, educators who care, non-profit leaders who perform miracles, established business owners who volunteer and invest here, retirees who mentor, artists who amaze and parents who want to see their children achieve the American Dream in a world that is increasingly complicated and fraught.

They want a Better Delray—they’ve wanted that for a long time and they’ve made and are making a difference.

So yes the Lynn MBA in Delray is very big news.

I know President Ross. He’s a friend. He’s a visionary. He and his talented team make things happen. So this is just a start.

But it’s an important beginning. A unique and innovative university is working with our Chamber of Commerce in our downtown—and the potential is enormous.

In his remarks last night Dr. Ross noted that he recently began talking to his teenage daughter about life after college (she’s still in high school). Does she want to come back to Florida? Of course, she does.

Where does she want to live?

Delray.

She’s not alone. So take pride. Something very special was built here and the best is yet to come.

Welcome to Delray, Lynn University.

We’re thrilled beyond words.

We’ve wanted you here for a very long time.

Many people have worked very hard to catch your attention and create a place you and your students will want to be.

 

 

Seize the Momentum To Come Together

Local elections are different.

They are up close and personal—almost like trench warfare among neighbors.

So when campaigns end, there is widespread relief– as if a pressure valve is finally released and you can breathe again.

It’s the morning after and it feels good for a few thousand Delray people whose candidates won and won big last night.

For the few dozen who roll up their sleeves and do the campaign grunt work–signs, signatures, phone banking, message development, fundraising, canvassing, social media, sign waving and get out the vote efforts– the feeling of stress gives way to elation if your candidate wins.

Losses sting.

On many levels, those brave enough to enter the arena deserve a measure of credit.

Because it’s no longer safe to run; not that it ever was but it’s much worse than I’ve seen it. And that’s a sad thing for our community.

Of course, we are not alone. Other cities have toxic politics too.

But that’s immaterial? Delray always dared to be different.

Campaigns used to be about ideas. Lately it’s about how Delray has been ruined. Only that’s not true. And finally people said; we’ve had enough.

Enough labeling.

Enough division.

Enough whining.

Enough bullying.

And not enough empathy, collaboration and listening.

And people said enough. Enough negativity. Enough online attacks by people who have contributed little to nothing to what has been a national model for city revitalization.

As I’ve written countless times, we are not a perfect place. We have problems, big challenges and mistakes were made. But…

A great job was done here by many many people over many many years.

And it’s time we say that. It’s ok to feel good about our town. Have pride, you’ve earned it.

We are coming off a very hard fought campaign following what has been a trying time in Delray.

I’ve written often about the need to ensure that the contributors, volunteers and investors in your city are happy. I’ve written often that it is impossible to please everyone. But if you have to make a choice it’s easy. If you’re a Mayor or a city commissioner, the best way to succeed is to please the people that do the work in your town.

A large number of workers and volunteers in our community have not been happy for a long time now.

Many of our major organizations and agencies have been criticized, bullied, dismissed and disparaged.

Some have had to spend their time justifying their very existence and past decisions. You can’t focus on your mission when you’re doing that.

So when I went to Jim Chard’s Election Night Party hosted by a young entrepreneur named Ryan Boylston a lot of thoughts flooded my mind. Ryan is a partner of mine in a local newspaper and media company. He runs a successful creative agency, employees a bunch of people, volunteers an enormous amount of hours, serves on boards, started a business incubator/co-working space and is raising a family here in Delray. His wife is a teacher.

But I’ve seen him ripped to shreds by people doing none of those things. Why? Is it because he has tattoos, ambition, energy, aspirations, and a point of view?

So what?

I wish we had more Ryans. My goal—and the goal of many other mayors—was to create an atmosphere where we would attract young entrepreneurs and their families. As the movie “Field of Dreams” taught us, if you build it, they will come. Well, we built it.  And they came here. Let’s be thankful.

And the opposite of that saying is also true: if they come, they will build it–that is take your community in really cool directions and create opportunities we didn’t dream possible.

One of my other partners in the newspaper is my friend Scott Porten. He built CityWalk, the Estuary and Harbor House in Delray and he stopped developing about 10 years ago. He took risks here, he created value and energy in Pineapple Grove and elsewhere where businesses and restaurants create jobs and serve people. I think what he and others did was pretty amazing. He replaced blight with vibrancy.

In the past decade, he has chaired city advisory boards, been heavily involved in the Beach Property Owners Association, he and his wife are raising two terrific kids, they are involved in their children’s school and Scott has chaired our chamber and Old School Square. He is a good and generous man. He loves this city and serves it every single day. I’ve never seen him say no to any person who has asked him for help and or advice. I can say the same for many other developers in town. Have you seen what Rick Caster has done with the 21 Drops Building? It’s indescribably beautiful and houses his wife’s growing business. Have you been to Ziree, the great Thai restaurant? Before New Urban Communities came to town–the area’s highlight was a drive through liquor store.

But some have vilified developers and development; when we should be encouraging good design, respecting property rights and putting trust in our land development regulations which guarantees we won’t look like Boca or Fort Lauderdale.

At Commissioner elect’s Jim Chard’s party, a woman I know came over to me and thanked me for helping Jim and Commissioner elect Johnson. She said “thanks for being fearless.”

Well, the truth is I’ve been anything but.

Yes, I speak my mind but I also pull punches. And that’s wrong. And so another guy I know called me out on it this week and we got loud with each other. And I said, “well, I have my style and you have yours. Let’s see which is more effective.”

But perhaps he’s right. A little bit anyway.

I don’t like bullies and I will and have stood up to them. But I also don’t like to fight and I don’t like politics. I like the work.

But another friend taught me that commissioners own culture in a town. Not the kind of culture we see at Old School Square or the Arts Garage. But culture in the sense of how we feel about our city—whether we have pride, whether we can work together effectively and whether we can disagree without burning down each other’s homes.

And on that measure our commission has failed. Big time.

So that’s why worked I hard for the candidates I backed this cycle—because I liked their maturity and temperament.

I left Jim’s party when Mayor Glickstein began to speak because I hold him accountable for some of the mess the volunteers have been dealing with for the past several years. I care about our Chamber—and it has its challenges because of politics. I love Old School Square—and it struggled to get a lease, lost events and rental income and I watched as two of my heroes Frances Bourque and Joe Gillie were criticized and the board I serve on accused of not being effective and worse. These are good people, our best.

I watched when the BPOA spent 6-8 years working on a Beach Area Master Plan pro bono—only to see the architect Bob Currie–who has been 48 years– get criticized and the leaders of the association feel dismissed.

And I watched a corporate headquarters and movie theater CEO who does business on a global basis be called an “amateur” at a hearing. That remark stung him. And many of us volunteers who love Delray reached out to him to apologize. Not because we’re shills or bought, but because we value people who want to invest here.

It doesn’t matter so much whether you want iPic or not, but it does matter how investors and businesses or anyone is treated when they go before our elected officials. It’s everything and it reflects on all is us.

So…I’m happy this morning. So are many others.

But we have made mistakes in this town that I hope we don’t repeat this time. When we hit a rough spot and we think we correct it, the tendency is to move on and that’s good. But it’s not good to move on before we the people discuss what has happened and why; and how we might avoid problems from recurring.

We have a chance…to mend fences with people who have spent years attacking each other culminating in ugly elections that trash our town and leave marks. But only if we seize this moment.

My hope is we do—this time. Because there is a new positive energy in the city and there is room for everyone—even those who disagree. But only if there is civility and respect. And it starts with the dais.

It always has.

 

Prepping For the Barrage

Promises, Promises.

Its election season in Delray Beach and the knives are out.

Sigh.

Over the next several weeks you will hear the following tired old phrases. So if your new to this or just plain curious, we thought it might be helpful to provide a glossary of terms.

“Special interests.” -anyone with a profit motive or an opinion contrary to those who really know best.

“Developers”–usually described as greedy, corrupting and insensitive to neighbors. You know, bad hombres.

Dark Money”-money given to PACs usually by greedy self -interests.  Of course, it’s OK for the “pure” candidates to hide the sources of their cash.

“Puppets”–corruptible elected officials who are typically weak and told how to vote.

“Puppeteers”–those who direct the puppets.

 “Overdevelopment”–most anything proposed in the central business district even if it meets the city’s rules, fits into citizen adopted plans and replaces blight or functionally obsolete buildings.

 “Recovery”–refers to the recovery industry includes sober homes.

“Lobbyists”–those who register to advocate for a particular good, service or project.

“Chamber types”-mostly small business people who care about the city. Some live and work here. Some just work here–that’s often not good enough for some despite the fact that some of Delray’s most valuable contributors have actually lived outside city limits. Also referred to as “good old boys.” Reality: step into the Chamber and you’ll see a lot of new faces, (and some older ones) and a whole bunch of smart women running and growing businesses.

“Slick consultants” – usually referring to the political type. If you use them you are not to be trusted. But frankly, trust has nothing to do with consultants. If you can be trusted you can be trusted. If you can’t, it’s usually not because you engaged someone to help you run a campaign.

 “For profit event producers”-those who stage events to make oodles of cash. PS. They typically don’t.

 “Resident taxpayers”—As Tarzan might say: renters no good. It also sometimes implies that business owners who live elsewhere are not qualified to volunteer for City boards even if they care, pay tons of taxes, donate handsomely to local nonprofits and want to serve and have the chops to do so. And sometimes it refers to people who live here and pay taxes.

“Out of control” –usually refers to events, development, spending etc.

You’ll soon be barraged by mail, robocalls and social media messages that will paint a dark picture outlining threats to the Village by the Sea by dark, greedy forces who ignore the people unless of course you vote for the protectors who will magically lower taxes, fight crime, stop overdevelopment, fight special interests and shut down sober homes.

You’ll also hear that while they care and have pure motives their opponents…oh their opponents…well they are just plain evil. Bought and paid for by dark money forces aiming to destroy our way of life.

What you are unlikely to hear is reality or any ideas. Oh they’ll say they have plans but you’ll never see details.

If I sound cynical maybe it’s because I am. Can you be a cynical optimist? I don’t know, but I do see bright skies ahead once the dust settles anyway that’s another blog.

But I would love to be wrong.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if candidates would just level with the voters?

What would that look like?

Well it might include the following:

We have a pretty terrific small city.

Lots of things have gone right.

Lots of value has been created out of a town that could have easily gone the other way.

Like so many other cities have.

But this town had guts. This town had vision. This town had leadership. And a great deal of unity too.

Great things were achieved. But more needs to be done. Too many people and neighborhoods have been left behind. And there are challenges and opportunities galore.

Schools that need attention—and yes the city has a role and there are ways to make a difference.

Too much property crime—if you don’t feel safe in your home and neighborhood nothing else much matters.

Opioids and terrible sober home operators who are exploiting people pose grave problems—but the issue is full of layers and complexities that don’t lend themselves to sound bites. A little empathy for people doing wonderful work in this field would go a long way.

Kids are dying. On our streets. Needles are everywhere. It’s taking a toll on our police officers and firefighter/paramedics. Our city needs great officers and firefighter/paramedics and they need to be supported not just with words (which are important) but with policies that ensure we are competitive and can attract and retain the best talent around.

Rising property values have made commercial rents skyrocket and many treasured mom and pop businesses are threatened as a result. This is a blend of “irrational exuberance” (and 1031 money sloshing around) and market acknowledgement that investors see great value in Delray Beach. But if we think the downtown is bullet proof, guess again. In order to remain sustainable, we need a mix of uses and more good jobs to complement a food and beverage based economy. Tourism is critical, but so is finding space for businesses, young entrepreneurs, family entertainment etc. We have to be concerned about demographics and keep our central business district attractive to people of all ages.

We lack middle class housing and need a passionate commitment to attract millennials  and jobs that will bring back our children after college. I’m seeing talented young people bypass coming here because they can’t get traction in our market. And yet we capped density where young professionals might want to live limiting supply and driving up already high prices. It’s about design folks—not some artificial number. We learned that lesson in the early 2000s, we need to learn it again.

Our community is divided–by personalities, history, perceptions, rumors, innuendo, social media, armchair critics, racial lines and even whether we like festivals or not.

You get the picture.

There are answers to all of those challenges or at least ways to make things better.

But an honest candidate would tell you that it’s hard to impact anything if your divided, focused on the wrong things and too busy labeling others to enjoy the good things in our community while working together on alleviating the bad and uniting against the ugly.

This March please vote. But kindly insist on honesty and experience in the candidates you ultimately choose to support. Seek candidates who have rolled up their sleeves and done something FOR this community.

It’s easy to discern those who are genuine and real from posers who divide and label in order to amass power.

Ask them what they will do with the power if they get it. Ask them how they plan to solve problems and seize opportunities if they divide, judge and label.

The truth is they can’t.

Because it really does take a village.

 

 

 

The G Word

There’s a new book out about the gentrification of Brooklyn and how it went from crime riddled to cool.
As the book “The New Brooklyn: What it Takes to Bring a City Back” notes, ask any mayor–well not any mayor– what they want and they’ll say safe and bustling streets,  events, culture, busy stores and restaurants, jobs and visitors.
In other words, gentrification. Only we don’t say the word.

Because it’s loaded.
Because gentrification often comes with displacement. When values go up, poor and middle class residents often get priced out. And when rents go up, it can mean the loss of treasured retailers and restaurants.
Gentrification yields winners and losers. There’s no doubt. But the book on Brooklyn notes that when cities decline everyone loses. So why not just leave everything alone then?

Well, it’s just not that simple in most cases. Change is a constant–unless you live in an historic district. Most of us don’t.

I was thinking about this when we ventured to Olio restaurant on a recent beautiful Saturday night.
We hadn’t been to Olio in a while.

It’s located south of Atlantic in what some are calling the “Sofa” district for south of the avenue.
Downtown was mobbed, lots of people walking, dining and riding the Downtowner.
We ran into two friends from Pittsburgh who visit for a month every year and they were astounded and delighted by the action and the new businesses.
They loved it.
Sitting outside at Olio and enjoying a wonderful evening, I thought to myself if I didn’t already live here this is where I’d want to be.
A small town with big city amenities–great restaurants, interesting shops, great hotels, culture and a beautiful beach.
At least that’s how I see downtown Delray Beach.
But we had to park a block and a half away and when we left the restaurant and went home there was a back-up at the intersection of Swinton and Atlantic. For us, we didn’t mind at all. It’s ok to walk a block or so to park. If we wanted too, we could have taken an Uber or a Lyft or the aforementioned Downtowner, which fortunately serves my neighborhood.

As for the back up at Swinton and Atlantic— eventually it moves and it doesn’t happen all year–only during “season” or during weekends when stores and restaurants are doing brisk sales. I can live with the slight inconvenience (emphasis on slight) because I want to see downtown businesses thrive.

But others don’t see it quite the same way. They consider parking a hassle or worse and traffic and congestion as a terrible inconvenience.
They see some favorite businesses close or move and it bothers them. I get it. I miss a few of those places too. (To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel: “where have you gone Green Owl, a breakfast crowd turns its lonely eyes to you”).
But…
Things change.
Cities change.
Downtowns evolve.
Sometimes they boom.
Sometimes they bust.
When they boom there are winners.
And there are losers.
But when cities bust, there are only losers.
I’ve lived here 30 years.
Our downtown has changed during that time.
There wasn’t much south of the avenue in the 80s and 90s–a sausage factory, empty lots and blight. Today, there’s Sofa, the apartment complex, an indoor cycling facility, Olio and more.
I like it. Based on the crowds we’re seeing and the property values of nearby neighborhoods I’m guessing others do too.
When I moved into town, Pineapple Grove was anchored by a tire store, empty streets and a self service car wash. Today, there’s Brule, Papas Tapas, the Coffee District, Christina’s, a bookstore, gym, other great restaurants, the Arts Garage, Bedner’s and Artists Alley.
I like it. It’s better than it was. A lot better, in my opinion.
There wasn’t much happening on 4th Avenue north of the avenue. Today, Beer Trade Company is killing it and Ocean City Lofts is a coveted address.
West Atlantic Avenue has been vastly improved since the 80s.
It still has a long way to go but it’s been beautified with paver bricks, the Elizabeth Wesley Plaza, a gateway feature and improved by investments such as the Fairfield Inn and Atlantic Grove which has some great spots including Ziree and Windy City Pizza.
It’s a lot better and vastly safer than it was when hundreds of people would be hanging out near the old Paradise Club on Sunday nights. Police officers and firefighters were routinely showered with rocks when they responded to calls for help.
Change is not always easy and it always comes with trade offs–create a place that is attractive and you get traffic.
Raise rents because your successful and beloved stores may leave. But because your successful you won’t see vacancies.
You get the picture.
Gentrification has winners and losers, decline has nothing but losers.
The key is to be aware and to be sensitive to those impacted and find creative ways so they can win too.  Create housing, job and cultural opportunities for all, get involved in your schools, encourage the private sector to offer creative space and not chase away artists, develop other parts of your city. But don’t stop paying attention to your core.

Be hyper vigilant about what’s happening and do what you can to create opportunities for all–small businesses, young families, kids returning after school, retirees, start-ups and growing companies.

Manage but don’t stifle.

Encourage ideas.

Reach out to your citizens  and don’t keep your own counsel.

Lead with humility, praise others, model civility, inclusiveness, exhibit gratitude and foster civic pride.

Repeat. Because you are never done. And that’s what’s so fascinating about cities.

Better Boulder Inspires A Better Delray

We used to be the city that went across the country sharing our story and inspiring others.

Some cities came here…from across Florida and the south—Greencove Springs, Cape Coral, Punta Gorda, Miami Lakes, the Smart Growth Partnership of Broward County, the Urban Land Institute, business leaders from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and others—because they saw Delray as a progressive and innovative laboratory on topics ranging from events and festivals to housing, downtown revitalization and smart growth.

And we went out across America to tell our story too—visiting places like Tucson, Greenville, Carmel, New York, Reno, Baltimore, Kansas City and Bellevue, Washington– to share best practices and learn from others as well.

That thought crossed my mind last week when we hosted a group of community leaders from Boulder, Colorado who have created a movement that is sparking others across the nation to say Yes in My Backyard—to jobs, a clean environment, good schools, economic opportunity, smart land use, transportation and housing for all. Indeed Better Boulder (www.betterboulder.com) hosted the first ever YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) conference in North America last year attracting interest from across the country and as far away as Helsinki, Finland.

Better Boulder is a coalition of young and old, business leaders, environmentalists, parents, educators, housing advocates united in a belief that when it comes to policy—there is more that binds us than divides us in our communities.

They believe in education, infill development, building cities for people (not cars), a healthy environment and housing for all. Those shared values have allowed business leaders and “enviros” to find common ground and build relationships that enable Boulder citizens to work together on a range of issues.

John Tayer is president of the Boulder Chamber and he is passionate about the importance of economic interests. He believes in the chamber’s advocacy role but he has found a lot in common with former Boulder Mayor Will Toor, a noted environmentalist who likewise understands the dangers of sprawl, the importance of jobs and the need to create a sustainable city for all.

Molly Tayer—John’s wife—has done a lot of advocacy work on a range of land use, transportation and housing issues and the other member of the coalition Ken Hotard is the VP of the Boulder Board of Realtors, which strongly advocates for housing and quality infill projects.

All have learned about the need to reach out and build coalitions around common objectives and aspirations. Boulder is a community—like ours—that is wrestling with some weighty issues. But they have found a way to unite and a way to value relationships even though sometimes they might not see eye to eye on every issue. It’s an important and inspiring message at a critical time.

We live in an increasingly polarized society—fueled by bathrobe pundits on social media—who seek to label, divide and stir the pot.

Terms like “special interests”, “greedy developers”, “chamber types”, “renters” and “slick lobbyists/consultants” are thrown around to disparage, minimize and divide people. That’s the price we pay to live in a free society and truth be told it’s a bargain. But….

It’s not healthy.

It doesn’t build community.

And it doesn’t solve problems.

Divisiveness also doesn’t enable us to seize opportunities. It does however, dampen spirits, dissuade volunteers and deter investment—and over time that is death to a community’s spirit.

The biggest asset of most cities is the excitement and vision for their hometown that stakeholders are able to share with the world. Civic pride and a sense of mission drives excitement and compels people to get to work building good things.

When you love something, you commit. And when you commit, magic happens.

Other cities have beaches and main streets, but our main street and side streets and historic neighborhoods and cultural amenities are special, important and have created a tremendous amount of value—both real (property values) and intangible (quality of life). Our friends from Boulder were impressed—so are many others and we should take pride in our accomplishments.

But they also know that none of what has worked would have been possible without teamwork and a collaborative culture. Community work—even politics—should be fun, was a big part of their message. Many people don’t feel that it’s fun anymore to volunteer in Delray, or work here or run for office or seek approval for a business venture.

Unlike others, I will never pretend to speak for anyone or everyone. But I’m sharing an observation that I hear in every room I enter these days across a range of activities and endeavors. Those voices of discontent can be dismissed, labeled, disparaged or even bullied. But they shouldn’t be ignored and pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. These same people are also firm in their conviction that more needs to be done–more opportunities, more good jobs, better housing options, more culture, more civility, more preservation and yes more smart development.

A group of us reached out to Better Boulder because of these voices and because we love and cherish Delray Beach. We want to see a Better Delray for our children, for our families and for the causes and organizations we are passionate about. That’s the special interest…that’s the agenda, not hidden but available to all in plain sight.

At dinner with our new friends from Colorado, we shared that whatever success that was achieved was hard fought and far from certain.

It took a village. A great many people working together—black and white, rich and poor, young and old to build what we think is a pretty special place. But there’s more to do—jobs to create, neighborhoods to fix, people to help, problems to solve and opportunities to seize.

We aspire.

We are not complacent.

There is too much at stake.

We believe that the best is yet to come.

But only if we work together and remain focused on building a better future.

We need you to get involved…now more than ever.

 

 

Better Boulder Comes To Delray

On Tuesday night, four community leaders from Boulder, Colorado will be in Delray Beach to share their story.
At 6:30 pm at Old School Square’s Crest Theatre,  representatives from Better Boulder (www.betterboulder.com) will give a free presentation on their efforts to build a sustainable city based on respect for the environment, sensible growth and housing policies that are inclusive. We hope to see you there. It’s important that you attend.
Better Boulder’s work has helped to both spark and further a growing movement of people who are proudly calling themselves YIMBY’s for Yes in My Backyard, a counter to NIMBYism which has often stopped smart growth projects that provide jobs, expand the tax base, add vibrancy and provide needed housing in communities.
Across the nation, there is a growing backlash to NIMBYs led by people who want cities and regions to make room for them too.
In the super expensive Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere YIMBY movements consisting of environmentalists, urban planners, young people and employers are banding together to push back against those who consistently say no to even reasonable development.
Particularly galling to many in the YIMBY camp is that NIMBYs often claim the moral high ground citing their desire to protect neighborhoods and cities. Others view their opposition in a vastly different light; more of a  “I’m in the boat pull up the ladder” mentality that shuts off opportunities for others.
Many times  it’s not that black and white.
Traffic, noise, parking and design are important considerations in any city.
But they must be balanced against property rights, the need to provide jobs and housing and the very real need to grow your tax base or risk losing services or raising taxes for existing residents.
Saying yes to reasonable, planned and intelligent growth does not mean anything goes.
Indeed, it should mean the opposite.
Cities should plan–and those plans should be based on a vision of the future . And visions should come from a wide variety of stakeholders in a community, not just those with the loudest voices and the time to protest.
A premium amount of attention should be spent on design, compatibility, desirable uses and how projects function in terms of parking and circulation.
Community input throughout the process is critical but it’s also important that elected officials and key city staff engage with development teams early to discuss local goals, sensitivities and sensibilities.
Some cities employ “town” architects who work with developers and designers to ensure good projects. If you seek to work with developers and they don’t listen, give them the boot. But if you don’t engage with them, you are forcing them to guess and setting all sides up for failure, stress, strife and suits of the legal kind. It doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s so much better when our civic discourse makes us smarter not angrier. 

We’ll end with this post with quote from Jane Jacobs, perhaps the most influential thinker and writer on what makes cities work.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created, by everybody.”
It’s hard to argue with Ms. Jacobs. But I’d add that cities work for everybody only when they consider everybody. And sometimes that means making room for others. 
See you tomorrow night at the Crest.
Wishing my Daughter a Happy Birthday
My little girl turned 27 yesterday.
It’s hard to believe because it seems like only yesterday when we were dropping her off at Little Friends in Delray and later at Poinciana Elementary School.
Now she’s teaching school. In Tampa. And I miss her.
I’m also very proud of her.
I have great respect for teachers and especially ESE (exceptional student education) teachers who make such a difference in the lives of children. That’s the path my daughter has chosen.
Samantha has what it takes to succeed as a teacher: passion for kids, boundless patience, a sense of humor and a heart as big as Florida.
When Sam was a little girl she had a series of ear infections. It seemed like we were always battling one painful episode after another.
It finally passed, but the battles left her with something called auditory processing disorder. As a result, she had a hard time learning how to read.
When we finally discovered the cause she was able to address the issue through an arduous series of exercises. Hours and hours of wearing headphones while completing computer programs designed to rewire how her brain heard and processed sounds.
It was hard work. Done after she had already put in a full day of school.
It was a lot for a little girl.
She never ever complained.
I remember telling her that she was special and that people like her succeeded because they had to work hard for their success. And the perseverance and resilience she learned would serve her well in life.
It did.
Nothing came easy for her. But she had a deep appreciation for every milestone achieved.
She graduated Atlantic High School went to Palm Beach State College and then to the University of South Florida where she excelled academically and with extra curricular activities.
To say we’re proud of her would be an understatement. There are just no words to adequately express how we feel about the young woman she has become.
My only beef– and it’s a small one– is somehow she and her younger brother became Patriots fans when their dad bleeds Giants blue.
I have several friends whose kids are having grandkids and I can’t wait for that to happen to us as well.
All I know is that it goes so fast.
The days of taking her to Old School Square as a small child to see an art exhibit, the ice cream cones at Doc’s and Kilwins, soccer at Miller Field, softball with her coach Dr. Grubb (his daughter whose Sam’s age is now Dr. Molly a veterinarian like her dad in Delrat), Girl Scouts, K-9 exhibitions to earn Brownie points, Safety Patrol, summer camp at Trinity, story hours at the old Delray Library. Arts and Jazz on the Avenue, high school, dates, driving and nights you slept with one eye open until your heard her come in the door.
And then they are grown.
Oh she still needs her dad. I know that. I hope that never ends but it’s a fast ride. Savor every moment.
Happy birthday Sam.  

We Can Do This

I live in what I would consider to be a  safe neighborhood.

We’ve lived in Delray Lakes for almost 14 years and we absolutely love it. We have wonderful neighbors and our location puts us minutes to downtown and minutes to I-95. We love living here and I often recommend—and will continue to recommend—to friends and acquaintances that they take a look at Delray Lakes if they are considering a move and want to live in a warm, friendly and convenient neighborhood.

It has been a great neighborhood to raise kids and now it’s a great neighborhood to be (almost) empty-nesters.

But in recent weeks, there have been a series of thefts out of cars. It is unsettling and it has rattled our happy little spot.

It’s a horrible feeling to be victimized. It’s a violation and it spurs both fear and anger.

My neighborhood is not alone.

Unfortunately, crime—especially property crime is an issue in our city.

According to a semi-annual report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Delray experienced a 17.5 percent increase in the number of property thefts in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015. There was an 8 percent increase in burglaries and a 24 percent increase in stolen vehicles, according to the stats.

In June 2016 alone, the city logged 108 auto burglaries, long time police officers can’t remember the last time they even came close to 100.

So clearly, there’s an issue. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news.

Fortunately, this city has experience in dealing with all sorts of challenges and we should be confident in our ability to overcome any and all difficulties.

We have a terrific police department.

We have had one for a long time now and it has made a profound difference in our city’s fortunes and quality of life. It starts with leadership and the team that our chief has built. Rest assured, he is steeped in how to diagnose a problem and deploy resources to mitigate whatever is thrown our way. Here’s how I know and why I have confidence.

I’ve known Chief Jeff Goldman ever since he was a very young police officer. When I was a young reporter, I often rode with Chief Goldman who was assigned to the “tact team” in the late 80s. The tact team was an elite group of officers who were tasked with fighting a raging crack cocaine epidemic that was sweeping the nation and our city at that time. Parts of our city were literally open air drug markets and people lived in fear.

When you’re wrong and impressionable, there are images that you see that simply won’t leave you. I was 22-23 when I first started riding along with our officers and I followed them into houses that were taken over by drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes. It was the era of AIDS and HIV and we saw people who were literally wasting away from drugs and addiction. We also saw senior citizens and others shaking in fear at the conditions on their block and more than a few whose homes were literally invaded by unwanted people who lived there and just took things under threats of violence.

The department did a great job dealing with those challenges in the late 80s and 90s.

But they didn’t do it alone. It was a team effort and the community was a part of the battle. MAD DADS formed and began doing drug vigils and walks through neighborhoods alongside officers confronting drug dealers and customers many of whom would drive into neighborhoods from other cities to buy drugs.

Community policing took root encouraging officers to get out of their cars and engage with the people they were sworn to protect and serve. The effort paid dividends—relationships formed, trust was built and as a result more information was shared enabling law enforcement to be more effective.

All of this was combined with stellar investigative work and specialty (sometimes multiagency) task forces that removed a lot of bad players from the community.

Citizen police academies were held, inviting the community inside to learn how the department functioned and graduates were funneled into a variety of citizen volunteer patrols that added more eyes and ears to the department.

At its height, over 1,200 volunteers were active, a whopping total in a city that was much smaller back then in terms of population. Delaire and The Hamlet stepped up and held fundraising golf tournaments every year to pay for non-budgeted equipment for police and firefighters. They donated literally hundreds of thousands of dollars over time and it made a big difference.

At City Hall, code enforcement, planning, the building department, parks, the CRA and other entities were involved supporting efforts to fix blight, crack down on nuisance properties, organize neighborhoods and encourage investment which does a lot to make a city safer. They worked together. A lively, active city tends to be a safer city. It really does take a village.

And it really, truly, seriously begins with safety. Jeff Goldman and his officers know this.

If people don’t feel safe in your city—they will not want to live there, work there or spend their leisure time in your community. They won’t want to invest either. Investment and belief run side by side. You can’t have one without the other and people need to believe in your city’s future if they are going to make a bet on your town.

So what can we do to make Delray Beach safer?

First, it’s a mindset.

The Police Department can’t do it alone. They need volunteers and vigilant citizens to be additional eyes and ears.

Second, we need to look at the issue of crime and safety holistically. We all know there are factors driving property crime that are very difficult to deal with.

Heroin and substance abuse disorder is a national scourge and Delray is suffering more than its fair share of problems associated with this very tragic plague. Its acute here; a very big issue.

Our officers and paramedics are dealing with a lot these days—literally fishing bodies out of bushes and having to resuscitate people who have overdosed. It takes a toll.

I’m happy to see the department invest in a social workers position to assist with what has become a serious humanitarian crisis.

But I think the investment will need to be even greater if we are to truly figure out how to mitigate the crisis. I was hoping—as were many others—that the city would find a way to hire someone to run what has become a highly effective Drug Task Force. Yes, I know it’s an expense. But there are certain things you can’t afford not to do. (Take a look at the city’s expenses for consultants and you’ll see where the money could come from).

The Drug Task Force, run by volunteers has done a great job of bringing most if not all of the players together so they can share intelligence, tactics, conditions on the ground and frankly so they can give each other some moral support because dealing with this epidemic is like drinking from a fire hose. And for every hard fought victory there is a tidal wave of tough news.

I’ve had the good fortune to attend meetings of the Task Force and I see cities, businesses, responsible providers, hospitals, prosecutors and legislators at the table. There’s value in that—and you can literally see collaboration flower in the room.

They are making a difference on our most pressing issue.

Obviously, the issue of heroin and the presence of irresponsible operators in our community create serious safety and exploitation issues.

The recent “joint” letter from the departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development was celebrated as a breakthrough by area politicians. But I’ve seen some other opinions that question whether it will actually give cities the ability to clean up the situation. Many believe it will lead to litigation—we’ll see soon enough.

So we have work cut out for us. I think we can learn a lesson from the days of blight and crack cocaine—a combination of traditional and community policing, code enforcement, voluntarism, neighborhood engagement, private sector investment, urban design and collaboration can and will turn the tide over time. But it takes time, money and effort. It’s a commitment. We have an opportunity to set an example for the nation by raising the level of conversation on the issue, recognizing the seriousness of the problem but also exhibiting some compassion for the people suffering and the good operators trying to save their lives. As for the bad operators—crack down and crack down hard. Lives are at stake. So is our city.

We’ve been there before with crack cocaine and saw conditions improve dramatically. We can do it again.

We have to.

The Past Can Inform Our Future If…

 

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

In October 2014 I had the privilege of participating in a Urban Land Institute panel focusing on Winter Park.
ULI’s TAP program (Technical Assistance Program) brings outside help to communities seeking advice on how to seize an opportunity or address a vexing issue in their city.
It was a great honor to be chosen to participate, because I have long admired Winter Park and I’m a big fan of Bob Rhodes, who is a legend in Florida.

Bob was Chair for the Winter Park TAP and shortly after the exercise he was honored with a much deserved lifetime achievement award from Leadership Florida.

Led by Bob, the panel produced a document aimed at framing some issues that Winter Park was facing relating to downtown development and offering them some solutions to consider.
So it was interesting for me to return to the city two years later to see what was happening downtown.
We spent a day strolling, dining and shopping on Park Avenue over the holiday break.
It was a beautiful day and the street was bustling.
Park Avenue has a similar scale to Atlantic Avenue, mostly two and three story buildings. Winter Park has some distinct architecture and it’s streetscape is immaculate.
Gorgeous planters, attractive signage, cool little side streets and a lineal park that runs alongside Park Ave gives the city remarkable charm.
While Atlantic Avenue is restaurant heavy, Park Avenue is dominated by retail.
There are a fair amount of chain stores and franchises ranging from Gap for Kids and Restoration Hardware to Starbucks and Burger Fi.
But there’s also a decent number of independents—the feel is decidedly upscale but not pretentious.
It’s a vibrant street and just feels good.
What makes Winter Park interesting is it’s able to succeed as a counter to much larger Orlando which sits (looms) next door.
Orlando’s downtown has come a long way in recent years under the leadership of Mayor Buddy Dyer.

As a result, Orlando is now much more than just theme parks and vacation villas.
Still, Winter Park still feels like an oasis in Central Florida.

The city wants to keep that charm and I think it will. ULI was brought to the city as a result of a strong desire for Winter Park to remain special in a sea of sameness, sprawl and traffic.

We also visited Celebration which is known for its new urban layout and variety of architectural elevations.
Now 20 years old, Celebration looks better with a little age on it. A former Leadership Florida classmate was one of the developers of the landmark project–which has received a huge amount of press over the years– so I had some insight into the thinking that Disney was trying to achieve in Celebration. The goal was to replicate some of the best features of American town planning before cookie cutter design began to proliferate. Critics called it a “Stepford” community, almost too perfect to feel warm and authentic.
I remember visiting some years ago and it felt much more faux than it does today. It has aged well and even my kids–not usually attuned to such things–noticed how different the neighborhoods were in terms of design.
Celebration and Winter Park stick out in a region that is suffering from an acute case of sprawl with all of its attendant illnesses including choking traffic and soulless sameness.
I wish there were more places like Winter Park and our own Delray Beach.
I sense that there’s a large market of people who want a walkable lifestyle, distinct architecture, interesting shopping choices and good local restaurants. Throw in attractive open spaces and large doses of culture and educational opportunities and you have a recipe for enduring success. You also have a recipe for high housing costs, which price many people who would enjoy and contribute to these places out of the market. One answer is density–done well of course–which adds supply and is also better for the environment. But the “D” word is often a third rail in local politics and public officials unwilling to do the hard work of engaging the community in an education effort often abandon the types of development patterns that people long for and create value well beyond a bottom line.
Will cities like Winter Park and Delray change?
No doubt.
But as long as they keep their “bones” and scale intact they will continue to succeed.
We just need more communities to follow their lead. And more public officials willing to push for quality of design rather than simply judging projects based on numbers.